Friday 14 April 2023

All the Saints of Ireland on Radio Maria, April 14

 I will be taking part in another All the Saints of Ireland show on Radio Maria Ireland at 7pm on Friday, April 14.  Tonight I will share some of the Patrician flavour to the calendar for the month of April with The Feast of Saint Patrick's First Baptism on April 5, The Feast of Saint Patrick's Ordination on April 6 as well as some of the saints associated with his mission in County Down. These include Dichú of SaulRos of Downpatrick, and Tassach of Raholp. You can see some of the localities featured at my other site here. I will also be looking at Saint Tassach's association with the Bachall Ísu, the Staff of Jesusthe most famous of Saint Patrick's relics in the medieval period. The March 2018 archive at my Trias Thaumaturga site contains a short series of posts on the fascinating history of this relic but a summary from March 2023 can be found here. I will also be looking at the hagiographers' accounts of how Saint Brigid spent her Easter and at the question of where she was born. A recent addition to the blog, Saint Fíonán Cam, will feature too.

So join host Thomas Murphy and myself for an exploration of the rich heritage of our Irish saints. For details of how to listen to the programme see:

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Saint Tassach of Raholp, April 14

St Tassach's Church

April 14 is the feast of Saint Tassach of Raholp, an early saint in the Lecale district of County Down. He features in the hagiography of Saint Patrick where he is credited with bringing the Viaticum to Saint Patrick on his deathbed but is also depicted as Saint Patrick's artisan. In this role as a skilled metalworker Tassach's most famous commission was perhaps the making of 'a case for the staff of Jesus', the most celebrated of Saint Patrick's relics. In 2018 I made a short series of posts on this fascinating relic at my Trias Thaumaturga site and published a summary last month here. Although he has always been firmly associated with the Lecale district of County Down, Saint Tassach later becomes confounded with Saint Assicus, the diocesan patron of Elphin, whose feast also falls this month on April 27th.  I have previously posted Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint Tassach here but below is a reminder of his career taken from Father James O'Laverty's monumental work on The Diocese of Down and Connor, the final volume of which looks at the Bishops of the diocese:


Tassach,  who  gave  communion  to  St.  Patrick,  immediately before  his  death,  in  Saul,  is  styled  Bishop  of  Rath-Colpa  in the  ancient  documents,  commemorating  that  event. The Hymn  of  St.  Fiech,  Bishop  of  Sletty,  a  contemporary  poet, thus notices it : —

"Tassach  remained  after  him,  when  he  had  given  the  communion to  him.  He  said  that  would  soon  go:  Tassach's word  was  not  false."  Dr.  Whitley  Stokes  translates  the following  ancient  note  on  this  passage,  written  in  the  margin of  the  Franciscan  copy  of  the  Liber  Hymnorum,

Tassach— Patrick's  artisan.  "He  is  the  first  that  made  a  case  for Jesus'  staff *,  and  Raholp,  to  the  east  of  Down,  is  his  church."

St.  Aengus,  in  his  Calendar,  treating  of  the  14th  of  April,
St.  Tassach's  festival,  gives  the  following  stanza: —

The  royal  bishop  Tassach
Gave  when  he  came
The  body  of  Christ,  the  truly strong  King,
By  the  communion  to  Patrick.

On  this  passage,  the  Leabhar  Breacc  enters  the  note: —
Tassach,  to  wit,  in  Raholp,  in  Lecale,  in  Ulster— that  is  Tassach, Patrick's  artisan  and  bishop.     And  this  is  the  festival  of  his  decease.

From  these  ancient  documents  we  see  that  the  glorious privilege  of  having  given  the  Viaticum  to  our  national apostle  forms  the  distinguishing  trait  in  the  notice  of St.  Tassach.  The  Martyrology  of  Donegal  at  the  14th  of April,  says: — "Tassach  of  Raholp,  in  Ulidia  i.e.  Lecale. This  is  the  Tassach  who  gave  the  body  of  Christ  to St.  Patrick  before  his  death  in  the  monastery of Saul."  

In a  sub-denomination  of  the  townland  of  Raholp,  called Banaghan,  or  Banagh,  are  the  ruins  of  the  ancient  church of  Raholp,  locally  called  Church-Moyley.  The  church  was 33  feet  4  inches  in  length  and  21  feet  4  inches  in  width.

Dr.  Reeves  writes  of  it — " The  south  wall  is  overturned; the  east  and  west  walls  are  about  12  feet  high;  the  east window  is  4  feet  6  inches  high  and  10  inches  wide,  splayed inside  to  the  width  of  3  feet  2  inches,  and  ends  not in  an  arch,  but  in  a  large  flag.  In  building  the  walls  yellow clay  has  been  used  instead  of  mortar.  The  plot  of  ground which  the  ruins  and  cemetery  occupy  is  about  half  a  rood  in extent,  and  seems  from  its  elevation  above  surrounding  field to  have  been  a  rath."  Dr.  Todd,  in  the  Obits  and  Martyrology  of  Christ  Church,  surmises  that  Tassach  may  have become  first  bishop  Elphin— "  In  part  II.,  c.  39,  Vit.  Trip. Assicus,  first  Bishop  of  Elphin,  is  called  "faber  aeris  S. Patricii."  One  can  hardly  help  suspecting  that  Assicus  and Thassicus  were  one  and  the  same:  especially  as  the  former is  not  mentioned  in  the  ancient  Martyrology  of  Aengus."

St. Tassach  seems  to  have  been  the  only  bishop  of  Raholp; at  least  our  early  annals  do  not  record  any  succession,  the lands  of  the  ancient  church,  however,  merged  into  the see lands  of  the  diocese  of  Down,  and  even  after  the  change  in religion,  remained  in  possession  of  the  protestant  bishop until  the  disestablishment...

* Baculus  Jesu  was  a  celebrated  crozier,  brought  to  Ireland  by St.  Patrick.  St.  Bernard  mentions  it  in  his  Life  of  St.  Malachy,  as one  of  those  insignia,  which  were  supposed  to  confer  on  the  possessor a  title,  to  be  considered  the  successor  of  St.  Patrick.  It  was  carried off  from  Armagh,  A.D.  1180,  by  the  English,  and  deposited  in  Christ Church,  Dublin,  where  it  remained  to  the  year  1538,  when  Browne, the  first  Protestant  Archbishop,  caused  it  to  be  publicly  burned  by the  common  hangman,  as  an  instrument  of  superstition.

Rev. James O'Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Ancient and Modern, Vol. V (Dublin, 1895), 23-24.

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Wednesday 12 April 2023

Saint Fíonán Cam of Kinnity, April 7

 April 7 is the feast of an interesting saint, Fíonán (Finan) Cam, of Kinnity, County Offaly but also associated with various locations in County Kerry.  The Martyrology of Oengus records on this day:

7. Finan the squinting, 
of Cenn Etig, 
around whom is 
much of clamour :

 There is a gloss on this entry, added by later anonymous commentators, which reads:

Finán the Crooked of Cenn Etig. Of Húi Luchta was he, i.e. of Corcu Duibne, and of Ciarraige Luachra was his mother. That crookedness was in his eyes, i.e. he looked crookedly at his fosterfather when he was asking something for his guests. "Thou hast leave to be thus, semper," says the fosterfather, even Brenainn son of Findlug.
Fíonán Camm, i.e. crooked was his eye, of Cennetig in Sliab Bladma. Of the Corcu-duibne was he.
A salmon of red gold came: it went in the west after sunset, against the womb of white Beccnat, (Finan's mother) so that it became her husband, (i.e.) when she was bathing in Loch Lein: ut dicitur: Now thou hast no earthly father: the Holy Ghost has saved thee, has fostered thee. 
Inde alius dixit
Becnat, daughter of vast Idgna, the precious stone that was not scanty: like the Son of the Virgin, Finán Camm was born of her. 
In Becnat's womb thou wast for a while, for thou wast conceived thro' God's word: 
an earthly father thou hast not, the Holy Ghost has saved thee, has fostered thee. 
Finan Camm brought wheat into Ireland, i.e. the full of his shoe he brought. Declan brought the rye, i.e. the full of his shoe. Modomnóc brought bees, i.e. the full of his bell and in one ship they were brought.
Finan is entitled to true circuits, a measure of wheat for every household, the full of his brazen shoe: a tribute that no great saint had taken.

 Well, there is certainly much to unpack here! Let's begin with his title of 'The Crooked'. The Irish word cam means bent or crooked and when applied to an individual usually signifies some sort of curvature of the spine or limbs. However,  in the case of Fíonán Cam, the bend is in his eyes, hence his title of 'Fíonán the Squinting'. The commentator references Fíonán's foster-father, Saint Brendan in relation to this and the Latin Life of Saint Fíonán confirms the relationship between the two. It tells us, in a trope typical of hagiography, that Saint Brendan predicted the future greatness of their son to Saint Fíonán's parents, who as a child undertakes seven years of study of the monastic life with his saintly mentor. Brendan later directs Fíonán to the place of his resurrection at Kinnity, where he establishes his own monastery.

Then we pass to the extraordinary conception of Saint Fíonán, which the commentator tells us involved a salmon. This too is upheld in the surviving written Lives of the saint, although in the opening to the Latin Life, translated by Pádraig Ó Riain in his 2018 collection Four Offaly Saints, the fish does not approach Fíonán's mother while she is bathing in the lower lake at Killarney, but rather descends upon her during a vision:
Holy Fíonán belonged to the family of Corca Dhuibhne; his father's name was Mac Airdhe and his mother was called Beagnaid. This is how he was conceived; his mother saw a fish of reddish colour airborne from the direction of the rising sun, which entered her womb through her mouth, and she conceived from it. She told this to a wise and religious man who said to her: 'The child in your womb will be a holy man, and he will have grace from God'. 

Wherever his mother went, for as long as he was in her womb, not a drop of rain, snow or hail touched her garment; her spittle cured every illness and feebleness, and whatever she served of food, however little or poor, it was enough for one and all.

P. Ó Riain, Four Offaly Saints- The Lives of Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Ciarán of Seir, Colmán of Lynally and Fíonán of Kinnitty (Four Courts Press, 2018), 81.

It seems that the object of this episode is not to glorify Beagnaid, the expectant mother, but to show that the miracle-working power of her saintly son was present from the very beginning. The idea that his conception does not involve a human father, despite the fact that the name of Saint Fíonán's sire is one of the first things the writer of the Life tells us, is perhaps designed to emphasize the purity of the saint as well as his likeness to Christ.
The final section of the commentator's annotations claims that Saint Fíonán is responsible for the introduction of wheat to Ireland. Daphne Pochin-Mould in the entry for Saint Fíonán on page 159 of her 1964 book The Irish Saints, makes this observation:
The gloss on the entry for Finan Cam in the Martyrology of Oengus records the curious tradition that "Finan Camm brought wheat into Ireland, i.e. the full of his shoe he brought. Declan brought the rye, i.e. the full of his shoe. Modomnóc brought bees, i.e. the full of his bell and in one ship they were brought. Finan is entitled to true circuits, a measure of wheat for every household, the full of his brazen shoe: a tribute that no great saint had taken." This recalls the shrine of Brigid's shoe in the National Museum, and makes one wonder whether at one time a shoe of Finan Cam was similarly enshrined and venerated, and carried on the due collecting circuits.

 I haven't encountered this tradition of shoes and dues collections before and would like to know more about it. The most recent thinking on the shoe shrine of Saint Brigid though is that it dates to the early eighteenth century.

As we have seen, the Martyrology of Oengus associates Saint Fíonán with Kinnitty alone but the Latin Life places him at various locations in County Kerry. The List of Homonymous Saints preserved in the twelfth-century Book of Leinster records eleven saints who share the name Fíonán, so perhaps it is not surprising to find that Saint Fíonán Cam has become entangled with Saint Fíonán Lobair 'the leper' of Swords, County Dublin. Fíonán Lobair is credited with the patronage of the church at Innisfallen, which may be because, according to Pádraig Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints, in south Kerry Saint Fíonán's feast was celebrated on 16 March, the feast day of the leprous one of Swords. Modern scholarship suggests that despite this confusion over the feast date it is the Kerry native, Saint Fíonán Cam, who is the true patron of Innisfallen. 

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Wednesday 5 April 2023

From the Litany of Confession: Seeking God's Forgiveness for Our Sins

In this final extract from the Litany of Confession, attributed to Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise by Friar Michael O' Clery in the seventeenth century, having identified the effects our sins have upon us and having begged God to take action against them, we now turn to seeking His forgiveness. Daphne Pochin-Mould, from whose work these extracts have been sourced, introduces this final section saying:

Then the litany asks the forgiveness of God by all the various actions of the Incarnation, the womb and paps of Mary, by everyone who saw or touched Christ and by Our Lord's own patience, humility, uniqueness, nobleness by the passion and the Resurrection and Ascension:

"By every creature whereon the Holy Spirit came, from the beginning of the world to the end;

By Thy coming again the day of doom; (grant) that I may be righteous and perfect, without great dread on me of hell or doom, without soreness or bitterness on Thy part towards me, O Lord;

For my sins are blazing through me and around me, at me and towards me, above me and below me.

Alas, Alas, Alas, forgive me, O God.

Every sin which I did, and took pleasure in doing;

Every sin which I did under compulsion, or not under compulsion;


Every sin which I sought after, or did not seek after;


Every evil that I did to anyone, or that anyone did to me; 


Everything which I sought for, or did not seek for; found or did not find; 

Forgive me.

Everyone to whom I did good unjustly, or evil justly;


Every good which I did and marred; evil which I did, and did not make good; 


Every provocation which I gave to God or man;

Forgive me.

Every sitting down, every standing up; every movement, every stillness; every sleep, every sleeplessness; every forgetfulness, every remembrance; every carelessness, every carefulness; every longing, every desire, every lust; every thought, every love, every hate, which is, which was, which shall be mine, so to my life's end.

Forgive me.

Every will, every displeasure, which I have harboured against God or man;

Forgive me.

Every ill that I did, every good that I omitted, every sin within sin, every ill within good, every good within ill that I did.

Forgive me for them. Amen.

Daphne Pochin-Mould, The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage (Dublin, 1956), 116. 

She comments in conclusion:

The length and detail of the litany of Confession is typical of Irish devotion of Celtic times, a liking to explore into everything, but there is also an alert watchfulness about it, a determination to let nothing be slurred over in this examination of conscience.

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Tuesday 4 April 2023

From the Litany of Confession: Waging War on Our Sins


Continuing the extracts from the Irish 'Litany of Confession', attributed in some manuscripts to Saint Ciaran, though most likely composed after the time of Clonmacnoise's founder. Yesterday we saw how the effects of our sins on us were described, today the Litany beseeches God to take action against them:

Propter nomen tuum Domine, propiciaberis peccato meo.
Many and vast are my sins in their mass, through my heart and round about it like a net or breast-plate;
O King, they cannot be numbered;
Despoil me of them, O God;
Break, smite and war against them;
Ravage, bend and wither them; 
Take away, repel, destroy them;
Arise, scatter, defeat them; 
See, repress, waste them;
Destroy, summon, starve them;
Prostrate, burn, mangle them;
Kill, slay and ruin them;
Torture, divide and purify them;
Tear, expel and raze them;
Remove, scatter and cleave them;
Subdue, exhaust and lay them low.
Heavy then and bitter is
The subdual and the piercing;
The bond and the fetter;
 The confusion and the maddening;
The disturbance and the raging;
which the multitude of my sins brings upon me.

Daphne D.C. Pochin Mould, The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage (Dublin, 1956) 116-117.

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Monday 3 April 2023

From the Litany of Confession: the Effects of Our Sins

In 1925 the Oxford scholar and Anglican cleric, Rev. Charles Plummer (1851–1927), editor and translator of the 1910 two-volume Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, added to his work on Irish medieval manuscripts by publishing a volume on Irish Litanies.  He assembled a selection of thirteen litanies in all, taken from a variety of manuscript sources including some of those used by Friar Michael O'Clery (1590-1643), preserved in the Royal Library at Brussels. Plummer called the first Litany in his collection The Litany of Confession, noting that O'Clery's manuscript called it 'De Confesione Sancte Ciarane (sic)' to which the Donegal hagiologist added 'I do not know to which of the Ciarans it is to be attributed...unless it be to Ciaran of Cluain (Clonmacnois)'. Plummer himself commented 'It is little likely that the Litany can be as old as the time of this Ciaran (ob. 549), but the connection with Clonmacnois should be noted. I have found no other indication of authorship.' In the extract from the Litany below, Daphne Pochin-Mould felt that 'in striking terms [it] details the effects of sins upon the penitent':

"Come to help me, for the multitude of my inveterate sins have made dense my too guilty heart; 
They have bent me, perverted me, have blinded me, have twisted and withered me;
They have clung to me, have pained me, have moved me, have filled me;
They have humbled me, exhausted me, they have subdued me, possessed me, cast me down;
They have befooled me, drowned me, deceived me and troubled me;
They have torn me and chased me;
They have bound me, have ravaged me, have crucified me, rebuked me, sold me, searched me, mocked me;
They have maddened me, bewitched me, betrayed me, delayed me, killed me.

 Daphne Pochin-Mould, The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage (Dublin, 1956), 116.

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